East Lindsey Council is taking steps to secure a future for its towns by engaging their communities with insight from the Institute.

The Institute has held workshops in five east Lincolnshire towns in recent months and over 200 people have participated in these. Louth, Horncastle, Alford and Spilsby are inland market towns whilst Mablethorpe is a coastal town with many summer visitors. Each workshop lasted 3 hours and heard about the changes now facing town centres, and the challenges yet to come.

Those attending the workshops come from a wide variety of backgrounds, including local residents, businesses, community groups, and members of various tiers of local government. The workshop includes group work to identify factors impacting on town centre vitality and viability as well as an examination of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in each town. This generates a host of ideas, some of which have more agreement than others.

East Lincolnshire's towns are relatively small and isolated but set in wonderful country around the Lincolnshire Wolds or, in Mablethorpe's case, along a spectacular beach (photo above). Rail services have long since gone and the towns are widespread. They have not been as affected as many centres by the loss of multiple retailers, as most were not present in the towns in the first place. Instead most towns still have a healthy spread of independent retailers and regular markets. However, changes are evident. Bank branches have been closing, leaving some towns without banks. Independent retailers are often barely sustainable businesses and butchers, greengrocers and other stores have closed. Mablethorpe no longer has a secondary school and pupils must journey 45 minutes each way by bus. Other services have been reduced and incomes are low for many. Many of the towns are attractive, with an historic built environment and combined with the natural location this has attracted people to retire to the area. However, much more could be made of the historic character and the distinctiveness this brings.

The workshops were commissioned by East Lindsey Council and invites were widely distributed. Newspaper articles announced the date and how to attend and notices were in local shops. As well as looking at the place itself, at the trends and changes impacting town centres, and recent responses from government and others, the workshop also hears about the factors that are most important for town centre vitality and viability and the importance for renewal of certain processes that ensure the town centre better meets the needs of the communities it serves. This draws on the past few years of research led by the Institute. The workshop concludes by reviewing local challenges and identifies steps that can be taken.

The Institute submits a summary report after the workshop and East Lindesey Council have already held a follow up session with many of those who attended the opening workshop in Louth to discuss the report. This will lead to a more detailed examination of preferences and priorities.

Mablethorpe is one of the 100 Towns recently announced as eligible to bid under the Towns Fund for up to £25 million to support its transformation. A second East Lindsey town, Skegness, has also been made eligible for this fund and a workshop be held there shortly.